Fallen Climber Recovery

May 17, 2013
Tahquitz Rock

Written by - Helene Lohr

It's Friday afternoon. I hear the helicopter circling over my house in Fern Valley. We get a text to respond to Humber Park for a fallen climber. Lee swings by to pick me up on his way to Humber Park. The news when we get there is not good. CDF has already lowered in an EMT who has confirmed it's a fatality. We finally get the go ahead for a helicopter recovery hoist. It's decided that Craig and I will be sent in with a litter to hoist the fallen climber out.

I'll be hoisting first in order to assess the situation and set up anchors for Craig if needed. I cross the helipad toward Star-9. Our Pilot Kevin Boss and TFO (Technical Flight Officer) Manny greet us with a handshake and nod. A short briefing follows, than I climb into the helicopter behind Craig. He takes the seat at the far end and immediately clips into the seatbelt. I swing around so I'm seated next to Manny, legs hanging out the edge of the helicopter. With a quick nod and a smile he clips me in to the hoist for safety. We check each otherís' carabiners to make sure they are properly secured and locked.

Within moments the bird lifts into the air and swings smoothly around to face North. Kevin pulls the helicopter into a hover near the face of the rock. Manny makes eye contact with me and points downward. Hundreds of feet below I can make out the forms of four CDF crewmen bunched on a ledge. I check my harness again, rise to a stand with my feet pressed firmly on the skid. Manny takes my hand and places it on the Carabineer handle on his chest. I pivot around to face him and give him a nod. He nods back and starts carefully lowering me. I glance back down at the approaching ledge, readying myself to land upright and secure an anchor as quickly as possible.

Helene being Lowered

Helene being lowered
Photo by Jenny Kirchner (Idyllwild Photographer) jennykphoto.com <

Before I know it my hand snags onto an outcropping about 40 ft. below the ledge. I take time to secure a grip on the rough surface before I unclip from the hoist. Star-9 pulls away from the rock and circles the valley once before pulling into a closer hover. Kevin has managed to compensate for the roughening wind and maintain a stable position directly over the target ledge. Mountain flying is one of the most unpredictable and dangerous things our pilots do and Kevin is one of the best. Craig's form appears at the door and swings down into the open air. As he lowers, I begin to climb.

Once we are both on the ledge we briefly greet the CDF crew. With darker clouds gathering in the valley just below us, Star-9 wastes no time in lowering the litter. Manny's voice over the radio, "Those clouds are moving in. We'll be back in 20 minutes". Star-9 heads back to Keenwild to conserve fuel.

The helicopter is already hovering as we finish the last details of readying the litter for the hoist. Craig radios in to the bird "Ready to hoist". Manny's on it right away. The hoist swings right in and we grab it. The CDF crew holds up the spider and I clip it in. An exaggerated hand signal and the litter swings up and away. As it reaches the bird I pull the tag line and the helicopter swings to the South. Within minutes Star-9 is back for us. A quick set of hoists and we're safe back in the arms of the Aviation Unit.

RMRU wishes to express our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the subject.

RMRU team members present: Lee Arnson, Pete Carlson, Helene, Les Walker, and Craig Wills.